Folks, this email I received accompanied with numerous legal documents certainly piqued my curiosity. For Nigerian fashion designers, event producers, musicians etc. there is so much to discuss about Nigeria’s intellectual property laws, trademarks, copyrights, among other things. For copyright law, I have addressed it in the context of music. But given these lawsuits, it is certainly worth discussing in the context of other creative arts. There are several lawsuits filed by the Plaintiff here but I’ll highlight a few.
LAWSUIT #1: International Pageants and Films Ltd. registered Africa International Film Festival on February 18th, 2010 (aka The Plaintiff). On June 25th, 2010, Organizers of Africa International Film Festival also registeredAfrica International Film Festival (AFRIFF). The Plaintiff sued both the organizers and sponsors for trademark infringement and also sought an injunction from Nigeria’s Federal High Court to stop the event. The court issued the injunction pending a court hearing on November 22nd, 2011 and the actual trial date on December 20th, 2011. Organizers of AFRIFF, nevertheless, continued with the event, according to the Plaintiff. The court has allegedly now held the organizers in contempt of court.
LAWSUIT #2: A similar set of facts follow as above for MTN Lagos Fashion & Design Week. The Plaintiff sought ex-parte (emergency) hearing for an injunction (which means STOP the infringing act) to stop MTN Lagos Fashion & Design Week. The court, it appears, issued some sort of temporary stay (stopped the event) but also scheduled an “Order to Show Cause” hearing for October 24th, 2011 to hear whether there should be an injunction to prevent the event. The event was held. The Plaintiff per the email appears to indicate the court did in fact issue an injunction, MTN Lagos Fashion & Design Week carried on, nevertheless, and now, they are in contempt of court. A similar fact pattern follows for Nigeria Fashion Week.
My Legal Talk.
One of the key reasons I began Africa Music Law is because as a practicing trial attorney here in the States who deals with these kinds of legal issues, it is clear Nigeria will have to fight its own intellectual property battles as it continues to grow very rapidly. In addition, with the onset of the digital age, it is clear, we need both lawyers and industry professionals who actually know what the heck they are talking about and get the big picture.
For Nigeria’s creative industries to be successful, lawyers and particularly trial lawyers are important to force the courts to begin dealing and carving out a clear legal framework so creatives do not get screwed over. To the degree anyone attempts to screw you all over, the litigation has created precedents that can now be followed and trial lawyers/lawyers are there to fight for you.
Now let’s get on with a few things I have to say on this.
Nigeria Fashion Week has been in existence for a long, long time. Can a company suddenly appear, register Nigeria Fashion Week as a trademark and then turn around to sue Nigeria Fashion Week for trademark infringement?
What are Nigeria’s trademark laws regarding this and how come they can do this?
That is a discussion that I will definitely have with you all once I thoroughly examine all 24-26 legal documents forwarded by the Plaintiff to the media, myself included.
- As a preliminary, do note that to sue under Nigeria’s Federal Trademark Law for Trademark Infringement, the Trademark Act says you MUST register your trademark. No if, buts and “ands.”
- Second, when you register your trademark and it is deemed valid, you have an exclusive right to do whatever you want with that trademark. You can sue infringers of your trademark as in the case here.
- Third, obviously, from a policy level, we do not want a society where people can run off to court and register your hard earned trademark just because you failed to register it and then sue you. This means if you do business in Nigeria, stop sitting on it creative people. Register your trademarks!!
- Fourth, Nigerian courts really need to be educated on Intellectual Property in the modern age; and technology beefed up and improved so that persons with existing unregistered trademarks can receive adequate notice to contest registration before the trademark office actually issues a trademark to any party applying. Right now, the trademark office does provide this notice through publication but technology and education can only help ensure better notification practices.
- Finally, do note that Nigeria’s trademark law is concerned about the likelihood of confusion where a trademark infringement is claimed, just like the USA. In English, this means, the Plaintiff here believes that he owns Nigeria Fashion Week & MTN Lagos Fashion & Design Week, among other names. His argument to the Federal high court is that current users of his registered marks, are creating confusion to the public. As such, they should not be permitted to use his trademark names. He asked the court for injunctions, the court issued him these injunctions, per the enclosed legal documents. These injunctions essentially mean the court said, “don’t stage your shows. Wait till we figure out the issues.” The Plaintiff’s statement in the email below that these business entities are held in contempt of court means that when a court issues an injunction, you must obey it. If you don’t you could be held in contempt. Obviously, there is a lot more bite if such disobedience occurred in the USA of a court order.
On the USA end, I covered this issue on my USA law firm blog when I addressed Madonna’s Material Girl lawsuit. In that case, Madonna who (owns) the hit song “material girl” and who also made material girl clothing merchandize and sold during her reign, is sued by a California based apparel company for trademark infringement because she has now established her clothing label material girl. There a Los Angeles based Federal court said, “yes you can sue. And oh! by the way, Madonna, just because you have used “Material Girl” since the 1980s” does not mean you own the trademark.” It would make sense if you all read the case here as the case appears to have parallel analogy to the current case.
Truthfully, Nigeria’s judges and courts are still trying to even truly understand trademark and copyright laws, especially where Nigerian fashion and entertainment brands are concerned. To date, almost 99% of Nigeria’s fashion and entertainment brands are yet to get the requisite protection they need. Many do not have their fashion brand names trademarked and for artists and labels, copyright protection is like speaking Swedish to them. I hope this case serves as Exhibit 1 for you all to sit up, trademark your names and hire a local intellectual property attorney in Nigeria to protect your brands and all of your hard work.
For me, there are so many documents to look through and legal issues raised in these lawsuit(s). I hope to break it down in simple English including covering Trademark registration, after the opportunity to spend time this coming weekend looking carefully through them, again. For now, feel free to look through the legal documents forwarded by the Plaintiff to the media.
NOTE: Some of these documents are inadmissible in court, per the notice stamped on them. I will be back to provide my legal commentary on this case before you can say “Africamusiclaw.com.”
From: Mr Charles Chudi Chukuani (Email withheld by Africamusiclaw.com)
Subject: Fw: MTN Lagos Fashion Week, African Film Festival and Nigeria Fashion Week held in contempt of Federal High Court Order
To: [email protected]
Date: Sunday, December 4, 2011, 2:41 AM
The Managing Director
Guardian Newspaper Limited
You may wish to be well informed on the following developments and thereby better inform the general public and your readership on these disturbing developments in the intellectual property law violation by large corporate organizations in Nigeria.
1. The Guardian article titled “Fasplosion” of Sunday 06 November, 2011 written by Nike Sotade refers, MTN and Stlye House failed to notify guardian that there is a major pending law suit regarding the ownership of the purported event at the Federal High Cour Abuja.
2. So also is the recently held Nigerian Fashion Week at Muson Center Onikan, Lagos which was held in contempt of a court injunction.
3. The current African International Film festival currently holding at both the Eko center and Palm center is taking place in contempt of a subsisting court injunction.
4. Our courts are being made a tootles bull dog what hope for the supremacy of rule law in this our dear country.
1. Adeola Ojedokun, Thank you for your beautiful blog on the illegal Nigeria Fashion Week recently held at the Muson Center Onikan, Lagos from 17th November, 2011 in blatant disregard and contempt of a Federal High Court injunction restraining the organizers from hosting the event.
2. Please find attached the still subsisting court order.
3. We are the copyright and trademark owners of Nigeria Fashion Week, Lagos Fashion Week and Abuja Fashion Week as well as African Film Festival.
4. Please find attached herewith a copy of the court order and our certificates of registration.
5. Kindly review and circulate to other media outlets.
Prince Charles Chudi Chukwuani
International Pageants and Films Ltd.
(phone number withheld by Africamusiclaw.com)
Nigeria Fashion Week
MTN Lagos Fashion & Design Week
Africa International Film Festival